Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 review
1/1.7in 10.0-megapixel sensor, 3.8x zoom (24-90mm equivalent), 298g
The LX7 was just as impressive in our image quality tests. The f/1.4 lens is the star of the show, capturing twice as much light as rival cameras' f/2 lenses, and almost seven times as much as CSCs' f/3.5 zoom lenses. Whereas certain rival cameras aren't so impressive at the long end of their zooms, the LX7 manages a wide f/2.3 aperture here too. This means the LX7 can afford to use much slower ISO speeds in low light. We compared it to the Sony NEX-F3 and Panasonic GF5 – two CSCs with 3x zoom kit lenses – and set them all to a 1/200s shutter speed. Despite its much smaller sensor, the LX7 came top for detail clarity thanks to its wide aperture that allowed a much slower ISO speed.
The wide-aperture lens means the LX7 can outperform cameras with much larger sensors in low light - click to enlarge
When very low light demanded faster ISO speeds, the camera still produced acceptable results up to ISO 1600. Processing raw files in Lightroom 4.2 (Release Candidate) extended the useable range to ISO 3200. Noise was never completely absent, though, with a slight turbulence in areas of dark, smooth colour even at ISO 80. Still, we appreciate the gentle approach to noise reduction, letting a little noise through in order to preserve as much detail as possible.
The tops of the trees in this shot are incredibly sharp, but Panasonic's efforts to squeeze as much detail as possible from the sensor sometimes leads to moiré and other artefacts, such as the rainbow-like colours in these ripples - click to enlarge
In fact, details were often startlingly sharp. It seems that Panasonic has pulled out all the stops to dispel any concerns about the modest 10-megapixel resolution. The downside was occasional evidence of insufficient anti-aliasing: high-contrast diagonal lines had a pixelated appearance, and there was swirling moiré interference on repeating patterns and discoloration on very sharp details. We're used to seeing these issues in videos but it's less common in photos. They were rarely serious, though, and processing raw files in Lightroom provided a cure.
There's lots of subtle detail in this dense foliage, too, but note the slightly pixelated appearance of the diagonal blade of grass just to the left of the top of the path - click to enlarge
We can't remember the last time a camera was so consistently impressive across the board. Our only real criticisms are the features Panasonic has omitted. An articulated screen would have increased the camera's size, but that's a compromise we'd be willing to take for the benefits it would bring to the video and macro modes. We'd also have liked a touchscreen for moving the autofocus point, particularly during video capture. GPS, Wi-Fi and a microphone input would be welcome, too.
There's an optional electronic viewfinder that sits in the accessory shoe, and while it's well-specified with a 1.44-million dot resolution and the ability to tilt upwards by 90 degrees, it's expensive at around £200 including VAT. People who need a viewfinder might be better served by the excellent Fujifilm X10, which has one built in.
The X10 is just as impressive as the LX7 in low light, with its superior sensor offsetting the LX7's brighter lens. The X10 is the bulkier of the two, though, and its continuous shooting and video capabilities aren't a patch on the LX7's. The X10 is still highly recommended, but the LX7 surpasses it to be our favourite premium compact camera.
Even more impressively, it surpasses any CSC we've seen at this price, too. Admittedly, it can't deliver the high-resolution, noise-free images of the best CSCs in bright conditions, and it lacks the shallow depth-of-field effects that come from a big sensor. However, no entry-level CSCs can match the LX7's controls. CSCs can be upgraded with wide-aperture and macro lenses, but having it all in one pocket-sized camera is extremely attractive. The LX7 brings the battle to CSCs, and overall, it comes out on top.